The decision by the Transport Ministry to stop issuing new permits for the operation of private buses is a prudent move, which will be received with a sigh of relief by commuters, motorists and the public in general.
While having the effect of not adding to the already chaotic highway scene and easing congestion of vehicular traffic, the snowballing air pollution not to mention the dangers posed by the speeding merchants of death on our highways, the new move would also reduce the need for supplementing the existing fuel bill of the Government which is already burdened on many fronts due to rising oil prices in the world market.
Private bus service came into being in a big way in 1977 for the first time after nationalisation of the service in the late 50s.
The public welcomed the move with jubilation since the service provided by the Central Transport Board (CTB/now known as the Sri Lanka Transport Board) then referred to as a sick giant- was woefully inadequate to meet the public demand and was one of the factors which brought down the United Front Government.
The public took to the novelty of the private bus service which it must be conceded was successful in filling the breach and was meant to provide healthy competition to the CTB whatever that meant.
However things turned out different before long and the CTB launched initially to prevent exploitation by the bus mudalalis was virtually swallowed up by a much more virulent and pernicious mafia that began to call the shots in the country s public transport sector.
The private bus service which was embraced by a much harried public with open arms was turning out to be more than an irritant. Buses began plying to their own time tables and where was once the CTB operated late night services, the private buses put up shutters soon after dusk, adversely affecting the public attending late functions and officers workers returning after late shifts.
With the CTB maintaining only a scanty presence it was a common sight to see large crowds stranded at bus stands in the night. Added to this was the rank indiscipline and uncouth manners of the private bus crews who became a law unto themselves with the public mere onlookers of the unfolding scenario.
The Government of the day did not want to rock the boat the private bus service being a creation of its own, what with leading politicians of the day having a hand in the commercial side of some of the private bus ventures.
Today the private bus services has come a long way since those early days and has now developed into a monster capable of challenging the Government with various demands.
The head of this Mafia who has shed all pretensions of being a supporter of the main opposition orders his minions to down tools at the drop of a hat even though the Government has bent backwards to accommodate the demands of private operators.
Contrary to pledges these buses still fail to operate on so-called unprofitable routes and are still noticeable by their absence on late night runs defeating the very purpose of these concessions. Added to this is the rampant lawlessness on the roads and their indifference to public safety.
Today most of the fatal accidents on the roads involve private bus drivers who race to overtake their rivals with the profit motive their driving force. They are the personification of the current day rat race with nary a care for life and limb of the passengers.
Most of these killers on wheels are belching jalopies that pollute the air. These persons who are indirectly responsible for the mounting health budget are hardly apprehended and put off the roads because it is plain knowledge that some leading law enforcement officers own buses. Who certified these buses as roadworthy is anybody s guess.
The Transport Secretary has been quoted in our weekend paper the Sunder Observer says bus operators have to follow sound control and maximum emission levels . However today these buses blare out music at high decibel levels which is perhaps meant to relieve passenger tedium or discomfort but has exactly the opposite effect.
But they carry on regardless. The Flying squads deployed by the Western Province Transport Authority are only keen to know if the tickets have been issued to passengers but do not attempt to find out other aspects relating to passenger woes.
Before the Transport Ministry attempts to place a moratorium on private buses on our roads it is incumbent on the authorities to overhaul the existing system and ensure a smooth ride to the public.